Thursday, July 15, 2004

The gang that couldn’t think straight

Now the Senate's report on the CIA's intelligence failures is out, the pundits are all commenting on it. I haven't read the report but there are several points everyone commenting seem to agree on. One of these is that we didn't have enough “good” HUMINT [human intelligence, which one commentator equates with spies which is incorrect]; that there was a “human intelligence failure” with respect to Saddam’s WMDs. For example, the Wall St Journal notes that:

“One very alarming explanation, says the report, is that the CIA had "no [human] sources collecting against weapons of mass destruction in Iraq after 1998." That's right. Not one source.” [ link: ]

The senate report goes on to say [as quoted by the WSJ] that when asked about this, a CIA officer explained that it was because such a source was “very hard to sustain" [to put it mildly]. Let’s set aside the CIA guy's comment for a moment, and reflect on the rest statement. It is the kind of thing politicians excel at; a technically correct statement that is — and this is the only semi-polite response possible — a load of crap. Here’s why:

First, the senate report states that a “global intelligence failure” occurred. Their conclusion would then seem to imply that the lack of a single CIA source somehow “explains” this “failure”. The report does not allege that no one had sources collecting against WMD in Iraq after 1998. What about these other intelligence agencies and their sources, and their conclusions that matched ours, and that ours we to some extent derived form? Apparently they don’t matter. If the CIA used British or Israeli or Jordanian sources after 1998, it’s still all their fault for not having their own. Or something… But at least the senate report’s statement remains factually true.

And what about Hans Blix? He certainly was in Iraq after 1998, he was certainly collecting against WMDs, he certainly found Saddam in “material breach” on the WMD issue, and he certainly did not find any evidence that the CIA’s [and everyone else’s] prior intelligence assessment was wrong. Blix didn’t work for the CIA so the statement above is still factually true, but so what? There certainly was HUMINT collected from Iraq on WMDs after 1998, probably from multiple sources, and it was significant. The conclusions in the senate report regarding HUMINT [as stated] reflect either criminal malfeasance, near-criminal stupidity or both. I suspect both.

Let me set one thing straight: HUMINT is not just "spies" -- it is ANY human derived intelligence. Interviews with defectors are HUMINT; reports by diplomatic personnel are HUMINT, the reports of the UN inspectors are HUMINT. But the senate report clearly means spies -- covert sources inside Iraq -- and that is clearly what the CIA guy was responding to. So what is the big deal about spies?

Let's play the spy game for a moment, shall we?

First, there's the rules -- or not. In US-USSR spy game there were rules, and sometimes they were followed. One of the rules concerned exchanging spies -- it sometimes happened. Sometimes the suspected spy was wired to a board and then fed alive, feet first, into the furnace of a crematorium. That reportedly was the fate of Lt. Col. Oleg Penkovsky [though officially he was said to have been shot], who spied for the CIA while inside Soviet military intelligence [GRU] and provided vital info to us during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But there were still rules, or the semblance of them, because the US and the USSR could exert leverage over each other; we each wanted things that made it sometimes in our interest not to hang [us] or incinerate [them] captured spies.

In Saddam's Iraq, there were no rules because there was no similar leverage and what happened to suspected spies made what happened to Col. Penkovsky seem downright cozy. Consider what Saddam did to poets and those suspected of speaking ill of him and you might get some idea, but I rather hope not. Consider the affect of this knowledge on anyone considered spying against him for us. Now let's get on with the game...

OK, so we want spies working inside in Iraq on WMD -- who do we want?

Well, weapons designers would be nice. They could tell us what they were building and how far along they were. But they wouldn't necessarily know where, or if, existing WMDs were deployed or when [or if] they were to be used. It would be better to have some Iraqi commanders for that, colonels and generals preferably. We also need to consider that our spies might be mistaken, confused, or they might be plants. we can't just tale their word of things; we should have corroborating evidence. To get this, access to suspected WMD facility would be good.

How many people could we expect to recruit for this? Given the risks, a small number: 5 or 10 well-placed sources to be generous. Let's be very generous and say 5 or 10 of each. Except when it comes to facility access, lets say 20 or 30 -- after all, this could be janitors, service and repair guys, the falafel man. Now let's think about how much info these spies could produce before they were caught; how many facilities they could search and how well...

But ... Uh-oh! I think we have a problem with our game! Didn't the UN inspectors interview dozens [not 5 or 10] of Saddam's weapon scientists? Didn't quite a number colonels and generals attest to the existence of deployed WMDs after the war? Didn't the UN search suspected Iraqi WMD facilities -- not 1 or 2, but dozens?-- for several years? Isn't it a fact that the pre-war WMD intelligence estimates were largely based on the inspector's findings, both before and after 1998?

Damn right they were! On HUMINT: military commanders, scientists, facilities searches. Exactly the kind of well-placed sources we sought for our fantasy spy game.

What else were they based on? Friendly foreign intelligence reporting -- this was a "global failure" remember? But what was that reporting largely based on? Oh yeah – HUMINT; their spies and well-placed sources.

So our prewar WMD assessment was about 90% based on what? HUMINT. And if it was all wrong, as so many believe, then all the highly placed spies in our fantasy game wouldn't have been any more right, because all the problems we associate with our real HUMINT sources also apply to our fantasy covert sources: they can be mistaken, they can be confused, they might be less than candid. So is there anything our fantasy spies might have been able to do that our current and historical HUMINT sources don’t do?

Well, suppose the pre-war WMD estimate is substantially correct and Saddam destroyed, sold off, concealed and or moved his stockpiles out of the country sometime before the war. After all — and this point seems to be routinely ignored — the CIA never said there would be WMDs in Iraq after the war; they said Saddam had them before the war, but lets put a time limit on that: say after 2001 [I suspect that’s about right though I haven’t seen the information cut-off date on the NIE published anywhere.] If we had some highly placed spies, maybe they could tell us what happened to those WMDs — where they were moved to, or concealed, or sold, or whatever.

But, wait a minute! We do have HUMINT sources claiming exactly that. We have claims that substantial WMD components, including weapons, were moved to Syria and concealed; we have people claiming to know exactly where. It’s just that no one seems to consider these claims credible. But what would make a covert source saying the same thing [or the opposite thing] more credible, just because he or she is covert? If the actual claimants are wrong or are trying to sell us a bill of goods for their own purposes, a covert source might be just the same.

The point is that HUMINT is HUMINT is HUMINT and it stands or falls on it’s merit, not because it is obtained covertly or not. We are swimming in HUMINT on Saddam’s WMDs and just because we achieve a covert penetration of Saddam’s government or military doesn’t by itself make the HUMINT obtained better — in fact, the preceding comparisons show the opposite: it is liable to be less complete, more sketchy, and a whole lot riskier to get than what we did obtain.

The “problem” with the HUMINT that was the basis for the CIA’s WMD assessment isn’t that it has been proven wrong; the problem is that many people don’t believe it. They don’t believe it because — and this is the real “problem”; the real “failure” — it fails to support the conclusions that they [in this case, the politicians] want to reach: that there were no WMDs; that there was an “intelligence failure” that they can exploit for political, ideological, and personal reasons.

So what are we to conclude? Mainly that the Senators don’t understand intelligence, and that they sure as hell don’t understand HUMINT. They do understand how to write polemics, how to get their names in the paper, how to dodge responsibility and how to deflect blame from themselves, and how to dishonestly exploit the intelligence community for venal purposes. They understand those things very well.

But the main thing they don’t understand is how their self-serving actions endanger Americans and innocent lives everywhere.


Blogger SharplyShiloh said...

From the sidelines, assuredly. I do not understand the Great Puzzle Palaces of intel agencies. Any agency or bureaucracy officially secret seems eminently positioned for a large number of excursions into turning upside down inside out and applying backwards that which is in our best interests. In other words, buggering us where we can't stand to be, well, buggered. Officially sometimes, sometime under the radar. As Luvenalis asked, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? -Who shall keep watch over the guardians? Which is not to slam the brave and courageous men and women who toil in our behalf, but to recognize we're under assault all the time in every quarter. Even Dan Rather seeks our downfall.

That said, in poor addition to this excellent analysis, is a question why a certain clique of proselytizing yayhoos would defy every single intel agency on the face of God's Earth and declare that despite each of these agencies imprimatur that Saddam Hussein was armed to the teeth and burning with a Bad Madness to go upside somebody somewhere somehow - that they alone knew for certain this son of tribal dogs had no weapons. Their defiance was and is a glaring neon sign demanding our investigation.

From the Outside here's what it looks like since the Nay-sayers are all of a particularly identifiable clan. A clan demonstrably out to ruin America.

During the lull in festivities while GWB sought UN sanction to enforce the terms of surrender Saddam inked in '91 these Nay-sayers and their puny band of crazies busied themselves like ants facing long winter to move and hide these weapons in neighboring countries - Iran, Syria, Lebanon, dare I say even Jordan? I can easily imagine the following briefing going out over the Marx Wire - ''Brothers in America. While we do the heavy lifting of the righteous moving and hiding Saddam's entire arsenal of weapons designed to cast down the Capitalists, Jews and Western Loving heirarchy you are 100% covered in raising the hue and cry that there are no weapons. Pound this theme, comrade, pound this theme for you will not be caught without a chair when the music stops. Shout it from the rooftops even though you're previously on record agreeing Saddam is a madman armed with the worst weapons known to man. Shout it. Pound the theme. Get in front of every camera and reporter and repeat this You will be safe, you will be a prophet and you will be the victor in this war of propaganda and those who go to war for these weapons will be left empty handed, stunned, made to be fools.

'Even now our brave forces in the US State Department are cornering the criminal Bush into a prolonged holding action at the United Nations to give us time that gives you time, precious time to accomplish this great mission. Our allies in the UN will stall the criminal Bush and we will hide the weapons. Go now, and prosper from our efforts.'

Or, something very close to that.

Now, seeing as I cannot bring myself to believe that our Intel capacities are less than the best, even when the best is not quite on the mark, I have to believe if I can get close to the truth, so can they. That in turn produces a conundrum.

Why haven't we gone into the Hidey Hole and neutralized the moved weapons?

Aha. Who says we haven't? And therein lies the second part of the tale. Few of us have any real referent to the actual facts of Why This War, Why Now. War I understand. My questions is always Why This War and Why Now every time a conflict breaks out, because war means powerful forces at a loggerhead. Power is a dangerous and fascinating topic, and when Power gets into armed conflict my question always remains, Why This War...and Why Now? That's the intel I want. It generally explains the rest of it. But. The casual observer must settle into the truth that you will never ever get that answer from the Old Media.

This is a much much bigger war than just radicalized Islamic terrorists in what looks to me to be cut outs for the real enemy. In fact, if I had to put a name to this war, whose phase at the moment is the War of The Hyenas, I call the real and long term conflict The War of The Bankers.

Disabling each other's intel services seems quite Sun Tzu to me. What a war that would be. And it seems to be unfolding right in front of us. I'd ask Sen. John Tower about it, but I can't seance the dead. Or, Boorda. Or Colby. Or, a few others. Which brings me finally to Christ.

You shall know them by their fruits.

And the Left, the Royals, the bankers, many and varied secret societies, many and varied blue blood lines, and many and varied interests are nothing if not, well, fruits.

And I am tired of them. How long, oh Lord. How long?

10:01 AM  

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